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HindustanTimes Wed,30 Jul 2014

Poland, Ukraine hail image boost as Euro 2012 ends
AFP
Kiev, July 01, 2012
First Published: 14:58 IST(1/7/2012)
Last Updated: 15:00 IST(1/7/2012)

Euro 2012 draws to a close on Sunday, when Spain defend their title against Italy, with the final ending football's first major foray behind the former Iron Curtain that has given a welcome image boost to the co-hosts.

Even before the first match of the 16-team tournament kicked-off in Warsaw on June 8, there had been widespread concerns about the wisdom of handing European football's showpiece tournament to Poland and Ukraine.

Not only were there fears about the readiness of the eight match venues or key transport and other infrastructure but also the cost for fans, with some hotels ramping up prices, particularly in Ukraine.

The threat of racist violence also loomed large, after the BBC aired a television documentary showing far-right groups at stadiums making Nazi salutes and monkey noises at black players, as well as an attack on a group of Asian students.

European countries, meanwhile, threatened to boycott matches in Ukraine in protest at Kiev's alleged mistreatment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is in jail on what her supporters claim are politically-motivated corruption charges.

But while there have been some problems, including racist chanting from foreign fans and some crowd trouble away from stadiums, notably between historic rivals Poland and Russia, the worst fears have not materialised.

Instead, the focus has remained mostly on the pitch, with high-quality matches with the continent's best players reflected in record television viewing figures in Europe and around the world, as well as high Internet traffic to official websites.

"The overwhelming feeling I have today is pride," Michel Platini, the president of European football's governing body, UEFA, told a news conference in Kiev on Saturday.

"Pride for Poland and Ukraine, so often decried but who proved they were up to the task by putting on such a great tournament. And pride for the people of Poland and Ukraine, who were such wonderful hosts."

The financial benefits of hosting such "mega-events" are a source of debate for economists. But Polish and Ukrainian authorites have both said the tournament and influx of hundreds of thousands of foreign fans have had a positive effect.

For Poland, the competition has gone a long way to overhauling the country's stereotyped image abroad of cold, grey, communist-era blight.

"We have succeeded on a global scale," Warsaw mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz told uefa.com. "Warsaw and Poland have never been so prominent in the international media and the consciousness of people worldwide."

A recent survey of more than 1,000 foreign fans by independent pollsters PBS indicated that 73 percent said they would come back within three years, while 89 percent said they would recommend Warsaw to family and friends.

Some even compared Euro 2012 to the ground-breaking recognition of the Solidarity trade union led by Lech Walesa in 1980 that triggered a wave of anti-communist sentiment and ultimately played a part in the collapse of the eastern bloc.

Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper said Euro 2012 "will go down in history as the first big celebration involving virtually all of society since the festival of Solidarity".

For Ukraine, which gained independence 21 years ago, there were similar benefits.

Ukrainian football federation president Grigory Surkis said Euro 2012 had brought "valuable benefits for generations of Ukrainians with infrastructure, hotels and airports".

On a human level, tournament organiser for Ukraine Markiyan Lubkyvskiy said: "Ukrainian fans and Ukrainians as a whole have shown themselves to be a kind nation, open to the world.

"Possibly this has been the most unexpected thing in the whole tournament."


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